Where Can You Go From President?

I suppose we should have seen this coming. The man's been on the job for seven months; his record indicates he should start scoping for his next promotion about now. After all, he'd been in the US Senate about this long before he started preparing to run for President; and in the Illinois State Senate about this long before he started his (failed) run for the US House of Representatives; and so on back through his career.

It's time to move on up. But where do you go from President?

President Obama has decided to go to the one place where merit bears no relationship to adulation: the United Nations. On September 24, the president will take the unprecedented step of presiding over a meeting of the UN Security Council.

No American president has ever attempted to acquire the image of King of the Universe by officiating at a meeting of the UN’s highest body. But Obama apparently believes that being flanked by council-member heads of state like Col. Moammar Qaddafi — who is expected to be seated five seats to Obama’s right — will cast a sufficiently blinding spell on the American taxpayer....
What he wants to discuss is "nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament broadly" with no mention of "specific countries." Iran and North Korea, then, can rest easy. (Can we? Anyone want to give odds that he'll promise to stand down some US nuclear forces as a goodwill gesture? How many of them?)

Some say this is a bid to become the next Secretary General of the United Nations. Why wait? I'm ready to support him for the office immediately.



The last post points to the good things available in life, this time of year. It's terrible to think that those pleasures will be lost to this young man, or that this Marine's death is being used to profit the Associated Press. Both Carrie and Cassandra have reactions to the latter. So does BlackFive, where I also blog.

I'd like to add that I'd just like not to hear any more about how awful it is that the military reviews journalist past performance in deciding whether or not to embed them. The two examples Stars & Stripes came up with were for OPSEC violations and publication of classified material. Here's another damn good reason that someone should be looking into every reporter who wants to come into theater.

I think Greyhawk's objection was that contractors shouldn't be doing it, soldiers should be; but that's a small matter. The force size is limited by Congress, and the size of the deployment by orders. It may be that they decided they needed their soldiers elsewhere, and so the slot that might have been used to provide the PAO with an assistant was contracted out instead. The point is, journalists ought to be evaluated before they are given access like this. If they don't respect the lives of the soldiers or Marines -- whether by putting their lives at risk through OPSEC violations, or by ghoulish reporting -- they should not be allowed to be there.

Late Summer:

It is that wonderful time of the year when a man can get both good October beer, and fresh peppers from his garden. Here is yesterday's harvest of cayenne:

The weather offers plenty of warm sun for frolicking:

And there is the occasional downpour:

Have a fine weekend.

A Ruling

A Ruling:

You might like to know that Miss Manners (whose column is listed under the "Admired Voices" section of the sidebar) has issued a ruling on the subject of whether Sen. Boxer was insulted when Brigadier General Michael Walsh called her "ma'am."

Miss Manners assures you that "ma'am" is, like its masculine equivalent, "sir," a highly respectful form suitable for addressing any female, including a president, a monarch and your own mother.
All of us familiar with military protocol knew that no insult was, or could be, intended with such a term. Miss Manner's ruling makes it official for the civilian side of the country -- at least, that part of it that cares about etiquette and courtesy.

Ethics & Wisdom:

Painless Cattle:

Popular Science asks, "Is it ethical to engineer delicious cows that feel no pain?" The answer is that of course it is; humanity has willfully modified animals through selective breeding and other means for all of recorded history. We've done this chiefly for our own purposes, but if we wished to do it for the benefit of the animal, there's certainly no reason we should not.

Now, my counter question: regardless of whether it is ethical, is it wise? These things weigh about a thousand pounds, give or take a few hundred for breed or sex. They're hard enough to control as it is. What are you going to do when they feel no pain?

Confed Yankee Wins

A Victory:

In the competition to create the best headline for this story, the clear and honorable victor is Confederate Yankee.


The Peasants are Revolting:

The WSJ has an article that notes consistent voter anger worldwide:

When the political world arrives at the point where even the Japanese rise up to toss a party from office after almost 54 years in power, it's time to see something's happening here, Mr. Jones.... The vote in somnolent Japan suggests that electorates are casting a global no-confidence vote in their leaderships. The same weekend the Japanese unloaded the Liberal Democratic Party, German voters withdrew Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling majorities in the state legislatures of Thuringia and Saarland.

In the U.S., political handicappers are predicting heavy Democratic losses in the House next November. This just four years after ending GOP control of Congress in the 2006 elections and two years after sweeping into office Barack Obama and his Democratic partners.

Congress's approval rating remains stuck around 30%.... Some search for an ideological trend toward the left or right in these votes, but the only evident trend is to strike out at whichever blob is currently in power. Even as Americans turned over their country to liberal Democrats, opinion polls showed that the British people were turning toward the Conservatives for relief from listless Labour.
So... why?

The WSJ, unsurprisingly, declares that it's because the government isn't acting like they feel a proper government should: it spends up vast national debts, it follows by raising taxes, it refuses to offer incentives to businesses to grow, and it structures laws and systems so that its members can't be held accountable for its bad behavior except by voters.

Thus, the only thing voters can do is toss people out at every opportunity.

Just as unsurprisingly, I would add that the problem is the governments consistently move to increase thier own power at the peoples' loss, and refuse to be controlled by any obvious principle or authority. In America, the Constitution is so widely ignored that it's almost enough to make one despair. The government functions as effectively unlimited in scale and scope, with nothing obviously beyond its power. Every year, we look with interest to see if SCOTUS will lop off one or another of the growing limbs of control and authority, and sometimes it does, as in Heller; and some times it does not, as in Kelo. Even when it does, though, while trimming one vine, fifty are left to flower and grow.

Am I right? Is the Journal? Are we both? Or is it something else, less visible to us because we aren't sure where to look for it?


Parenting and Mrs. Palin:

I'm not particularly interested in this story; I read it only because I had a vague notion that I ought to know the name "Levi Johnston," but couldn't remember why. I'm not at all interested in the parts that have drawn the most commentary in the blogosphere.

However, I was intrigued by this part:

The Palin house was much different from what many people expect of a normal family, even before she was nominated for vice president. There wasn’t much parenting in that house. Sarah doesn’t cook, Todd doesn’t cook—the kids would do it all themselves: cook, clean, do the laundry, and get ready for school. Most of the time Bristol would help her youngest sister with her homework, and I’d barbecue chicken or steak on the grill.
I'll excuse the fellow, on grounds of his youth, for not recognizing what he was looking at. Far from being an example of "not much parenting," this is an example of excellence in parenting.

You mean to tell me that, by the late teens, the children are pitching in to such a degree that all the household chores are done? Cooking, cleaning, preparation for school, homework? All of it?

The take-away here is that, far from being unready for motherhood, Bristol Palin was perfectly ready for it. She had learned how to take responsibility, not only for herself, but for those of her family who were younger or weaker or in need of help. She knew how to be depended upon, to carry her own weight, and to help others learn to carry theirs. She knew how to cook and run a household. She was absolutely ready to enter the world of adult life, whether as a wife and homemaker, or in any other capacity normally open to someone of her age: that kind of self-discipline and order will let her tackle any set of problems.

I've known many at the age of thirty-five who weren't ready to take full responsibility for themselves, let alone to have others depend on them. I've known many of any age who never got that family is about taking care of each other, rather than providing you with a never-ending set of loans and benefits.

Raising kids so well as that would be quite an achievement all on its own. Managing a successful business in addition? A great deal of pride should be taken in that. Being a successful governor in addition to all that? Good gracious.

Practical Philosophy

Practical Philosophy & the Constitution:

Ms. Megan McArdle is quite right to say that ethics -- which is the type of philosophy she and her interlocutor are practicing here -- ought to have some real-world relevance. The old phrase "hard cases make bad philosophy" (which also exists: "hard cases make bad law") is true, and it's true for just the reason she brings up here. The amateur (or very clever) philosopher will simply abstract until they've removed all the negatives from whatever they wanted to prove; or until they've removed all the positives from what they wanted to disprove. This is a form of sophistry.

The argument being put foward is, 'So, if we could provide perfect health care to all people at a low cost, shouldn't we do so?' The concept is that, once you endorse the principle that you should do so in a perfect case, we need only to slowly expand to engulf all the imperfections.

Yet wait: Even in that perfect case, I have a practical objection. Listen to the principles Ms. McArdle lists in her counterargument:

■We have some obligations to future generations, if not necessarily future individuals within those generations. Extreme thought experiment to clarify the principle: we cannot strip mine the earth and leave them to die.
■People have no obligation to perform labor for others. I may not force a surgeon to save my mother at gunpoint. (To be sure, I might. But society would justly punish me for doing so.)
■States have an absolute right to tax their citizens to provide public goods, i.e. goods that are broadly beneficial but non-excludable. They have a right to enact other laws, such as public health rules, to achieve similar ends. Both rights are constrained by the basic rights of their citizens. You may perhaps quarantine Typhoid Mary. You may not shoot her.

■Societies have a right to organize themselves to improve the justice of their income distribution. That organization may include taxation. It may also include property rights, or outlawing behavior like blackmail.
■Property rights did not spring full-blown from the head of Zeus into a natural right. They're contingent, evolving arrangements that happen to work really, really well for encouraging many sorts of beneficial economic activity.

■Just income distribution is not just a matter of relative position, but also of how the income is acquired, and absolute need. I do not have any moral claim whatsoever on a dime of Warren Buffett's fortune, because I have a perfectly adequate lifestyle. I still wouldn't have any claim on his fortune if he suddenly got 100 times richer, provided that he acquired that money through means that we regard as licit.

■Societies should strive to organize themselves so that everyone in the society can, if they desire, acquire the means to provide their basic needs.

■There is no per-se right to health care, since "health care" is not a thing, but a shifting collection of goods and services with amorphous boundaries. Health care is a subset of the modern "basic needs" package, and therefore falls under broader distributional justice claims. No matter what your distributional justice intuitions are, it would be perfectly acceptable, if impractical, to give very sick people the cash required to treat their cancer, and let them blow it on a trip around the world.

■No one should have to work more hours for the state than for themselves. This should inform our approach to taxation.

■Taxation should strive to equalize the personal cost of taxation among all members of society, not the dollar amount or the percentage of income. That is, it is appropriate for Warren Buffet to pay a higher percentage of his income in taxes for shared public goods than I do, because the personal cost of taking 25% of his income is much lower than the personal cost of taking 25% of mine.
■An equal distribution of misery is not a good social goal. When policies to redistribute goods or money result in fewer or poorer quality goods being available, that cost should limit the redistributive impulse.
■If people will not comply with your regime, and their non-compliance may have unpleasant results for themselves or others, this is an important side constraint.

■The government should not interfere in voluntary transactions unless there are significant direct externalities. The fact that you get stressed or unhappy thinking about something does not qualify as a direct negative externality. Nor does the cultural miasma that emanates from these transactions.

■The government certainly should not forbid anyone to purchase something on the grounds that other people are not able to purchase that thing.
Some of those principles are very sound, and others I might argue; but there is something noteworthy missing from them.

What is missing is the Constitution.

The discussion they are having would be a very nice one for a state in some early stage of formation. However, we've had that discussion. The government was allocated certain powers, only. Not one of the Founders ever dreamed that they were endorsing a government that would provide insurance coverage, or provide doctors, or otherwise provide health care to anyone at all -- far from "every citizen" in the country (plus, perhaps, any other persons in the country, legal or illegal).

The Founders provided us with a means for allowing the Federal government to assume sweeping new powers: the Constitutional Amendment process. So, here is a principle missing from the debate that belongs there:

For the Federal government to assume major new powers, that goverment must ask for new authorization for those powers from the People through the amendment process.

"But Grim," you might say, "you know perfectly well that it is impossible to get a Constitutional amendment through such a divided electorate. You're merely attempting to rule that the other side isn't allowed any realistic option for enacting its program."

Not so!

First, the Founders were very well aware of the difficulty of the process they proposed. They were especially aware that it might outright prevent contentious issues from ever becoming Federal law. That was the whole point.

The stability of the government, of the nation, and of the polity all depend on not ramming rapid, massive changes through in the face of severe opposition. Just such behavior had led to civil wars and rebellions across Europe in the period when the Constitution was being written. Two of special moment to the Founders were the English Civil War and the Covenanter movement in Scotland.

That is why the Constitution they wrote requires not only a supermajority of representatives and Senators. It also requires the States to ratify the amendment, each one considering the issue separately in its own space. Without the vote of a supermajority of the States as well as Washington, the Federal government may not assume new powers. It especially may not assume vast new powers touching every citizen in the nation, and every State in the Union.

The amendment process the Founders settled upon was precisely the opposite of the method the Obama administration chose here. They decided to try to pass a law before anyone could even read it, and before the August recess when Congressmembers might have to hear from their constituents about it. Far from asking the States to ratify their approach, they tried to prevent anyone living in the States from having the chance to express an opinion. They would have had Washington insiders decide the issue alone.

Sweeping changes that travel through the legitimate process have to be heard at length, fully argued, and enjoy broad support across the several states as well as within the Federal government itself. That is the way the system is meant to work. It doesn't matter how good your philosophy is: that's the system.

Second, if in fact you could 'provide health care to everyone at minimal cost,' you might well be able to win even the more arduous argument. The problem is, you can't. A substantial number of Americans have lived in countries that have tried, or have traveled in such countries, or have experience with the health care industry, or in one of many other ways become aware of the practical limitations.

Don't tell me, though, that the argument couldn't possibly prevail if it were really true. If the government could actually provide 'perfect health care to all people at low cost,' it would be a very salable idea.

It would sell even through the Amendment process.

What is causing all this revolutionary "water-the-tree-of-liberty" rhetoric at the tea parties is the rank refusal to consider this basic constitutional question. The Federal government wants simply to assume vast new power without asking the States or the People outside of Washington. They may not.

If there is a single philosophical principle that ought to be defended in this debate, that is it. It's not even a question of whether health care is a right or a commodity, whether it's right to want the government to provide it to the citizens or not. The main issue is that they were never given such authority. If the Federal government wants it, it may not simply seize it with no reference to the States or the People. Washington can't do this alone. If they want to make a massive change to the basic nature of the government, they've got to ask for new authority.

The fact that Washington has discovered that it has the power to ignore the Constitution does not make it right. Does everyone remember when George W. Bush, while President, stated that he had Article II power to hold prisoners indefinitely? Remember how badly he was excoriated for that (though the Obama administration appears to agree, now that they are in office)?

Yet at least he made a reasonable attempt to show that the suspension of habeas corpus was rooted in a genuine, spelled-out Constitutional authority of the President's. What is the Constitutional justification for any of this? For the "investment" in General Motors? What limits on the Federal government will Washington recognize?



Block out fifteen minutes and watch this.

Islamic Scarves

The Right to Choose (the Scarf):

Naomi Wolfe has an article in the Sydney Morning Herald (a fine Australian newspaper, that) on the subject of Islamic women who really like to wear their veils and scarves. The article has generated some controversy, but I'd like to explore the concepts she raises because I've heard women in Iraq say exactly the same thing that she has these Moroccan women saying.

Indeed, many Muslim women I spoke with did not feel at all subjugated by the chador or the headscarf. On the contrary, they felt liberated from what they experienced as the intrusive, commodifying, basely sexualising Western gaze. Many women said something like this: "When I wear Western clothes, men stare at me, objectify me, or I am always measuring myself against the standards of models in magazines, which are hard to live up to - and even harder as you get older, not to mention how tiring it can be to be on display all the time. When I wear my headscarf or chador, people relate to me as an individual, not an object; I feel respected." This may not be expressed in a traditional Western feminist set of images, but it is a recognisably Western feminist set of feelings.
This is a point that I have heard from Iraqi women, from American women who have had to travel in the Middle East, and from Israeli women who have operated within the Arab world. It harmonizes very nicely with the piece we were discussing lately on the subject of what it is like for foreign women to operate in the Muslim world, which is apparently highly aggressive towards foreign women particularly.

In addition, she's right to say that the feelings are 'recognizably... feminist.' I can think of several women who read this space who have, at times, expressed a sharp desire for a public space in which women are treated without reference to sexuality. Islamic society has achieved a success of a sort there: they do have a public space in which (local rather than foreign, veiled or otherwise scarved) women may operate without being "on display" or judged by their appearance.

One American woman I worked with found that the headscarf was a welcome refuge when working with Muslims. She spoke of the comfort she felt while wearing it, because it seemed to deactivate men's ability to think of her as a sexual creature. She had a freedom, then: when with those whom she wanted to consider her as a potential mate, she could be sexual if she chose; but when with others, she had a retreat.

Phyllis Chesler delivers an excoriation to Ms. Wolfe, however, pointing out that what is "a choice" for her (and for the American women I mention) is not a choice for many Muslim women.
Now that Wolf is no longer the doe-eyed ingenue of yesteryear, she sees the advantage of not being on view at all times. A Westerner, “playing” Muslim-dress up, Wolf claims that hiding in plain view gave her “a novel sense of calm and serenity. I felt, yes, in certain ways, free.” In addition, Wolf believes that the marital sex is hotter when women “cover” and reveal their faces and bodies only to their husbands.

Marabel Morgan lives! In the mid-1970s, Morgan advised wives to greet their husbands at the door wearing sexy clothing and/or transparent saran wrap with only themselves underneath. Her book, Total Woman, sold more than ten million copies. According to Morgan, a Christian, “It’s only when a woman surrenders her life to her husband, reveres and worships him and is willing to serve him, that she becomes really beautiful to him.”

Well, what can I say? Here’s a few things.

Most Muslim girls and women are not given a choice about wearing the chador, burqa, abaya, niqab, jilbab, or hijab (headscarf), and those who resist are beaten, threatened with death, arrested, caned or lashed, jailed, or honor murdered by their own families. Is Wolfe thoroughly unfamiliar with the news coming out of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan on these very subjects? Has she forgotten the tragic, fiery deaths of those schoolgirls in Saudi Arabia who, in trying to flee their burning schoolhouse, were improperly veiled and who were beaten back by the all-powerful Saudi Morality Police?
The point is well taken. Ms. Wolfe's approach discusses the issues of the veil as if they were about Westerners being unable to accept an "alien," "Other" approach to sexuality. She writes as if this is what Muslim women really desire, and that the fault is ours for not understanding them. In fact, in very many cases, the various forms of the veil are enforced rigorously: they are not a choice.

Ms. Wolfe is not wrong, however, when speaking of cultures where there is choice. She mentions France, and its war against the hijab, as an example. Here in America, too, women have the freedom to choose if they like.

Women have tended to choose against the veil, or other clothes designed to 'deactivate' their physical beauty, given the choice. USA Today was just describing how even some nuns now wear "street clothes," since Vatican II gave them the choice. Married women in the West once wore veils over their hair as a normal part of their attire, but increasingly rarely since the 1600s.

There is a choice available that makes that much-desired "public space" more readily attainable for women. However, that choice -- for whatever cause -- is unpopular (even with nuns!). You can see from Ms. Wolfe's writing that there is a certain value placed on it by those who still practice the custom. However, as Ms. Chesler points out, given the physical coercion involved, it's hard to say how much of womens' praise of the veil is rationalization of something they couldn't escape if they wanted. For women I've known in the Middle East, it was a choice that was valuable to them; yet only a few of them wanted to be veiled among other Americans.

Was that due to some similar social pressure: not beatings and stonings, but a fear of scorn or disdain? I'm not sure, myself, not being female; but I suspect that it has to do with a desire to be perceived as "normal." In the Muslim world, "normal" wears a veil; in the West, it doesn't. Insisting on wearing one here is a choice that would be accepted, but it would also be a signal that you demand to be treated differently than everyone else. While people would accept that, generally speaking, it would result in you being placed in a special category off to the side, rather than being part of the general society. Many people, and perhaps especially many women, value social interaction to a degree that makes them want to be accepted as widely as possible.

Still, the answer to that is only that there needs to be a movement to make it common enough that it ceases to be unusual. Not, mind you, that I'm advocating such a movement; no more than I'm advocating against such a movement. I'm merely interested in the issue because I've observed it in several places and through several lenses.

American Royalty

American Royalty:

"It's time to embrace American royalty," declares the Sock Puppet, while making a very good point:

We're obviously hungry to live with royal and aristocratic families so we should really just go ahead and formally declare it...
I'm afraid that all these Kennedy retrospectives make it clear that he's right.

Except, hm... Kennedy, Kennedy... no, no mention of it in this article.

No, he's mad that Jenna Hagar, nee Bush, was given a job. Nothing about the Kennedys at all.

Hm. Well, probably it will occur to him soon.


The Nobility of the Horse:

It's been a long time since I posted a horse photo, once a regular feature of the page. The horse is a noble animal, admitted to the narrow range that features also dogs and men, and very rare cats.


Oh, you're wanting dog pictures too. Philistines on the sidewalk. Fine.

A Year With The Romans

"A Year With The Romans":

Open Letters has endorsed a project by that name, in which their monthly magazine will feature reviews of Roman writers' works -- I gather, every month for the year. The author, Steve Donoghue, has the first piece here, reviewing Quintus Curtius Rufus' writings on Alexander the Great.

I'm encouraged by the comments section of the piece, which suggests that the readers are not taking any foolishness. Mr. Donoghue will have to up his game to satisfy them, which will probably be good both for him and for his future pieces.

One part of the review, toward the end, touches on something I have been thinking about from some other readings. You have here a Roman reflecting on Macedonian conceptions of what it means to be "a free man," and on the proper relationship between a free man and his state (in this case, his king). The occasion is a mutiny by Alexander's men. The classic Greek warrior -- and remember, Alexander modeled himself consciously on the heroes of the Iliad -- was led by a "first among equals" king, not an absolute monarch. It was the Persians who believed in kings who were set far above their subjects. The Greeks fought in a warrior band:

You wanted Macedonians to kneel before you and worship you like a god! You betrayed the memory of your father Philip, and if some fashion elevated a god over Jupiter, you’d despise Jupiter too! We are free men – are you surprised we can’t endure your vanity? What can we hope for from you, if even innocent men must face death, or worse than death?
It’s possible that by this point in his world conquest, Alexander really did fancy the idea of Persian-style absolute monarchy over the hillbilly egalitarianism of his native Macedon. We lack the written records to say for certain, but men have been known to become thus corrupted.
"Hillbilly egalitarianism" is a terrible phrase. It misses the spirit of the warrior band, who are "egalitarian" only among themselves: heroes, who are brothers against the world!

It also misses the real issue of the Roman system, and particular the Roman law. Henry Charles Lea captures the issue in The Duel and the Oath, his work on judicial duels and oath-swearing in European law.
The Roman law concentrated all power in the person of the sovereign, and reduced his subjects to one common level of implicit obedience. The genius of the barbaric institutions and of feudalism localized power.
Lea's "barbaric" nations were chiefly the Germans, Franks, Angles and Saxons whose traditional laws were in competition with the Roman law among Medievals trying to determine the right way to write laws of their own. The Roman law generally speaking preferred to place power in the hands of authority. The Germanic peoples preferred to place power in the hands of men of honor: that was why they favored systems of compurgation, which would allow men of honor to establish your innocence by swearing that they believed in it; and systems involving trial by combat.

The official Medieval understanding of trial by combat was that God would defend the right, so that the just cause would win. The underlying root is that sense of honor that runs the risk of sacrificing life for what is loved: if a man loved something enough to peril his life for it, that love and honor stood before the court as overwhelming evidence unless it was equalled by another champion on the other side. If it was, they would fight.

You can see how this is a system that would appeal to warriors, far more than a system of submission to higher authority. That latter system might impose any humiliation on them, and indeed, the very act of submission to it in the first place was a humiliation. All this system of judicial combat asked was that they be ready to die when they could no longer win. As that was the daily fact of their lifes in the days of combat by shield-wall -- and, likewise for the Greeks in the days of the phalanx -- it was an entirely acceptable bargain.

If they were self-interested in that way, the champions of the Roman law were likewise driven in part by the expectation that they could benefit under their preferred law. The Papacy's special authority was exercised by men not always practiced in physical combat, but expert in argumentation, logic, and intricate legalism. The main advocate of the Roman law was the religious, who pressed for submission to authority as a way of maintaining their predominance in the law. Lea:
An important step was gained when in 1146 Henry II, as a concession to the papacy, agreed that ecclesiastics should not be forced to the duel; but this did not extend to the Scottish Marches, where by law an ecclesiastic was as liable as a layman to personal appearance in the lists; if he presented a champion he was held in custody till the event of the duel, when, if the champion was defeated, his principal was promptly beheaded.
The papacy remained a stern enemy of judicial combat, and especially of forcing churchmen to it. Their success was uneven and limited, however, and Innocent IV resolved certain issues confronting his papacy through wager of battle. He was successful in this regard, probably reinforcing the notion that God was in fact defending His favorites. Even so, the Popes preferred law by evidence and argument, not by the sword, or the oath of trusted men.